Ozoni and Nanakusagayu: Japanese Food Eaten Over New Year’s
In Japan, New Year’s is a big celebration. For any celebration, there are traditional food cultures that are associated with it. We have already introduced the Osechi dishes that are eaten on New Year’s Day, but in this article, we’d like to introduce the Nanakusagayu (Seven Herbs Rice Porridge) and Ozoni (Soup dish with rice cakes) which are other dishes that are eaten along with the New Year’s celebrations.
Nanakusagayu: Seven Herbs Rice Porridge
The Nanakusagayu is a traditional Japanese dish that is eaten on the morning of the “Jinjitsu no Sekku” a seasonal day of celebration that falls on January 7th. It is a porridge seasoned with salt and as you may guess from the name, it uses seven different kinds of herbs that grow in spring.
The ingredients that are most commonly used are the following seven herbs: Suzushiro (Daikon), Suzuna (Turnip), Hotoke-no-za (Henbit), Seri (Japanese parsley) Hakobera (Common chickweed), Gogyo (Jersey cudweed), Nazuna (Sheperd’s purse).
Because these seven herbs are the first sprouts to be seen in early Spring, it is said to be powerful in warding off evil and thus it is eaten in the rice porridge wishing for good health for the entire year.
Here’s what each of the ingredients mean…
(Clockwise from upper left)
1. Suzushiro 蔔（すずしろ）: Daikon
It helps digestion and prevents the common cold.
2. Suzuna 菘（すずな）: Turnip
Rich in vitamins
3. Hotoke-no-za 仏の座（ほとけのざ）: Henbit
It is also known as Tabirako. It is somewhat similar to a dandelion and is rich in fibers.
4. Seri 芹（せり）: Japanese parsley
It is a mountain herb that grows near water. It helps in enhancing the appetite.
5. Hakobera 繫縷（はこべら）: Common chickweed
It is rich in vitamin A, which is good for the eyes. It was also considered to have medicinal effects for stomach pains.
6. Gogyo 御形（ごぎょう）: Jersey cudweed
Another name for it is the Hahakogusa. It is said to be the origins of the Kusa-mochi, a type of rice cake that has herbs in it. It is effective to prevent the common cold as well as reduce fevers.
7. Nazuna 薺（なずな）: Sheperd’s purse
Another name for it is the Penpengusa. It was a popular ingredient during the Edo period.
Depending on the region, there are cases where not all seven of the above are used as ingredients. Other variations exist where other greens, root vegetables, fried bean curds or mochi (rice cakes) are used to make up 7 ingredients. There are also variations where meats such as chicken are used as in the southern part of Kyushu.
Because we tend to eat a lot of rich foods and consume alcohol from the end of the year to the New Year’s, the Nanakusagayu is said to help relax the overworked stomach. It also helps to make up for nutrients as the winter diet tends to be lacking in vegetables.
Ozoni: Soup Dish with Mochi Rice Cakes
Ozoni is a Japanese soup dish that uses mochi (rice cake) as its main ingredient. The soup is seasoned with shoyu or miso. There is variation by region as well as different family recipes, and so this dish itself is considered to be representative of how largely Japanese cooking varies by region.
The ozoni is most often eaten around New Year’s. On the evening of New Year’s Eve, rice and mochi is offered to the gods. It is said that the tradition of eating ozoni during this time began from taking this offering down after sundown and cooking it in soup with vegetables.
Different Varieties by Region
1. Mochi: Rice Cakes
Even if we take the mochi alone, there is variation in shape; square or round, types where it’s placed and cooked directly in the soup, and other types where they are toasted before it’s placed in the soup. In areas where there is not much rice farming, sometimes taro or tofu are used in its place.
2. Other Ingredients
The most common ingredients are tofu, potatoes, slices or chicken, chicken meatballs. Some other green vegetable like komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) or spinach; More ingredients that add color like carrots, kamaboko (fish cakes) and shrimp or fragrance like yuzu and mitsuba (Japanese honeywort).
For the stock, kombu (dried kelp), dried sardines or dried cuttlefish is often used. The broth is most often clear but there are some variations that use miso. The type of miso also differs based on the region so the appearance of the soup looks different as well.
December and January is a time of festivities and rich foods. After all the days of excitement and festivities, it feels really comforting to have the warm rice porridge and soup dishes. In Japan, rice porridge is the comfort food that is eaten when you’re sick. We hope you get to eat the seven spring herbs and mochi to stay away from disease and sickness for the entire year!
Related: New Year